I Knew It My Heart: A #LessonLearned from Alexandra Rosas
Have you ever heard of the Crypto-Jews of the Canary Islands? I never had until Alexandra Rosas came along….
After being cooped up inside the airplane for thirty minutes, a cabin filled with passengers learned we would not be taking off.
“We can’t seem to locate the pilot,” the flight attendant announced over the loudspeaker.
“We’re doing our best to remedy the situation. In the meantime, sit tight.”
Is there really any other way to sit on an airplane these days?
The man next to me had claimed the armrest and, as he began to snore, his legs relaxed into a wide stance, his knees encroaching into my tight space.
I thought about the Good Ole Days.
Before we had to take off our shoes. Before we had to be patted down and swabbed. Before we had to be x-rayed and scanned and probed.
Once upon a time, people loved to travel by air. Folks even dressed up to look nice in the airport because air travel was for the elite. Cheerful clerks gave us our boarding passes, tagged our bags, and placed them gently on the conveyer belt. So long as our suitcases didn’t weigh over eleventy-seven tons, we were allowed to check two bags through without any additional charges.
In the good ole days, security was minimal. A man could carry a whole case of rubbing alcohol onto the plane if he wanted; no one would have thought a thing about it. No one had to remove his shoes or belts or jacket. We did not have to be x-rayed or scanned or swabbed or probed. Our gels and liquids did not have to be segregated into quart-sized baggies.
Once upon a time, air travel was sexy. Flight attendants were women. We called them stewardesses. They liked their jobs and seemed interested in passengers’ comfort.
In the 1970s, stewardesses had names like Kimberly, Debbie, Julie and Susie. They wore starched uniforms and easy smiles. Tall and tan and leggy, stewardesses looked like life-sized Barbie Dolls.
Appearing quickly at the touch of a button, stewardesses wore starched uniforms and easy smiles, prepared to offer an extra blanket.
But back then, everyone had blankets. And pillows. And if you got on the plane early enough, there were even magazines to borrow. Good ones.
People rarely needed anything. After all, our bags had been checked and were out of the way, so we read books or napped. No one walked around admonishing passengers to turn off their electric devices because those things hadn’t been invented yet.
Once passengers buckled up, they started to think about the meal they were going to receive because for a time, every major airline served 4-course meals. And these meals were gourmet.
The Transportation Library archival collections at Northwestern University lists scores of old airline menus. United Airlines’ coach class meals included salads, desserts, sandwiches and beverages, with menu items such as “Broiled Tenderloin Tips a la Deutsch” (1973, Chicago – San Francisco) and Continental boasted ” Breast of Chicken Vodkaliano” (1979, Washington to Denver).
My husband remembers United Airline’s Sunshine Flight that departed daily from Rochester, New York to Florida in the 1970s. “Everyone got crab legs and a slice of key-lime pie,” he says with a faraway look in his eye.
I remember airline meals coming on silver trays with cloth napkins and real cutlery. Everyone was given knives. And no one worried about getting stabbed.
On my recent trip to Florida, I felt fortunate to have received my tiny pouch of pretzels and half can of soda.
While we waited for the pilot to be located, the woman on my right read over my shoulder as as I typed my words. “I see you’re writing about the way air travel used to be.” She crossed and uncrossed her ankles. “There used to be a lot more legroom.”
Once upon a time, there was more legroom.
And more space between seats, too.
And they never misplaced the pilots.
What do you remember about flying in the Good Old Days?
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Way back in December, I asked Alexandra Rosas of Good Day, Regular People the question in a tweet. “Are you Jewish?” And while she said she responded that she wasn’t, she told me bits of the story featured below.
I knew I had to have her share it here.
Those of you who follow Alexandra know she is normally pee-in-your-pants funny. This piece is special because it reveals another side of her writing repertoire.
Alexandra is the oversensitive mother of three who, in a surreal twist of life, found herself named as BlogHer ’11′s Voice of The Year for Humor. She has been a mother since 1994, which means she hasn’t been right about anything since. Besides trying to go unnoticed in her small town, she fills her days blogging of the sweet and the funny at her humor site Good Day, Regular People. Alexandra claims to be socially awkward and that the Internet was created for her — but I don’t buy it.
Folks can read her blog, follow her on Twitter at @GDRPempress. Or if you do the Facebook thing, you can find her here.
Now! Pay attention! Because this is history and personal narrative rolled into a ball of fabulousness!
• • •
I Knew It, My Heart
In the seventh grade, one of my favorite places to spend the weekends was my friend Lisa Seraphim’s house. Everything felt so instantly familiar there, especially the things her mother would do.
Lisa and I would help her mother clean up and cook. I’d watch as she’d sweep the kitchen floor from the corners first, and then gather the dust into the center of the room. I’d look at her mother and say with astonishment, “That’s how my grandmother taught me how to do it too!”
Her mother would start dinner and the first step was to always rinse the meat, being sure to remove all the nerves before soaking it in salt water. Just like home, I’d think to myself. In the mornings, as we’d crack eggs for breakfast, her mother would instruct us to throw out any eggs that had blood spots in them. “My grandmother tells me the same thing,” I’d answer politely. Just like home, even though Lisa’s home was Jewish, and mine was Colombian.
Mrs. Seraphim would cook with garlic, cumin, olive oil, and tomatoes. Always tomatoes, like my Spanish grandmother’s dishes. The meals at Lisa’s house were identical to the meals at my house; I never had to worry about whether or not I would like what she would serve.
Lisa had younger brothers, the same as I did, with long, curly hair. They had to wait until the boys were at least three years old before they could cut their hair. My family had done the same thing with my brothers.
I never thought much about all the similarities between my family and Lisa’s. I was attracted to them and felt comfortable in the things that the Seraphim’s did. Beyond that, I never thought further.
Did I think it odd that Lisa was Jewish and I was a Catholic that had come from South America, yet we had too much in common to be a coincidence? I didn’t. It wasn’t until years later, while in a college World Religions Class that my mouth and eyes opened in an aha moment when the professor began to cover The Spanish Inquisition and told us about the Jews that escaped from Spain to avoid persecution and found safety in The Canary Islands. I felt dizzy in my chair.
My grandmother’s family had come from The Canary Islands.
My grandmother rinsed the meat from the butcher to free it of any blood, my grandmother lit candles in a closed off room on Friday nights, my grandmother would not buy fish without scales.
This was before the days of home computers, so I spent that night after class poring over the books in the campus library. There were books on this subject! The group of Jews that had gone to live in secret were known as Crypto-Jews. I found a list of questions called “Fifteenth Century Spain and Crypto-Jewish Customs.”
As I raced through the questions, answering yes to over half of them, my mind couldn’t believe it. Does your family fast during la semana santa? Yes. Does your family celebrate El Dia Puro? Yes. Does your family clean the house on Fridays during the day? Yes. Are biblical names common in your family?
Every other uncle in my family was named Moises.
But the next bit of information I found made me clap my hand over my mouth to keep quiet. There was a list of eight, ONLY eight, Crypto-Judaic family surnames from The Canary Islands. I read through it holding my breath.
My grandmother’s maiden name was on it.
Was I a descendant of Crypto-Jews? I’ll never know; sadly, my grandmother has been gone twenty-five years now (we clipped locks of her curls, and wrapped them in tissue paper). I prefer to think of this information as the reason why I have always been drawn to and had an affinity for the Jewish friends in my life. It’s as if my heart already knew.
Have you ever heard of Crypto-Jews? Tell me something fantastic about your ethnic background? If you could be of a different ethnicity, what do you wish you could be?
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